Sunday, June 12, 2011

Thinking about Annie's success

June 12, 2011

Dear friends,

Miss Annie’s dilemma has prompted some systematic thinking about fear. However, today I want to focus on a brief summary of the end of the adventure Miss Annie and I shared and one question that it has raised. (If you are a new reader, blogs for the preceding two weeks explain the circumstances leading to Miss Annie’s panic).

My first conclusion regarding Miss Annie was that her fear was her business indeed, but it was my business as well since it affected our community life together. Miss Annie’s world was smaller—no more interesting moonlight surveillance of the mysterious night life outside her window; no moore lazy naps in the warm sun; no easy respite from the world of humans and their noise; no deliciously difficult hiding places in which she could safely escape human interference in her life. But by a parallel measure, her fear made my life with her smaller as well—no quiet hours with a book knowing that Annie was happily watching her world in the dark; no easy refuge for Annie when the dreaded vacuum cleaner came out of hiding; no interesting private place to which Annie could retire when the world of people became more than she could graciously tolerate. It seemed to me that Annie’s fear compromised the quality of her life and of our life together, and that together we should attempt to do something about it.

After some thought and consultation of an old behavior modification text, I devised a plan for desensitization of Miss Annie’s fear of the garage, using her favorite treats as reward for each step she took in re-approaching her old perch. The process took patience and time on both our parts, and consumed a large jar of treats. However, I am glad to report success; Annie’s surveillance of the night life in our side yard has resumed; and this afternoon, bored with my schedule of time on the computer, Miss Annie has taken herself off to her garage perch for an undisturbed nap, no treats expected or required.

“Success” has itself, however, raised some interesting questions. What difference did it make that the provider of the treat/reward was a human that Annie loved, and who, in turn loved Annie (however inperfectly)? The treats themselves were a significant factor in the successful conclusion of the project, of course. I have no doubt that the whole affair would have ended in a resounding failure had I offered Miss Annie a limp piece of lettuce as a reward for each frightening step she risked. But the crunchy goodness of the treat was not the only factor that influenced Miss Annie.

I am thinking, of course, about the relationship of love and fear. In the adventure that Miss Annie and I shared, did love somehow shape the environment so that the treats became effective? Is focusing on aloneness—no matter how hidden or denied it may be—the first step in dealing with fear? Is dealing with fear one of those life tasks we cannot successfully complete alone?

One aspect of spiritual growth and psychological well-being intersect at this point. Human love, and/or a trustworthy therapist can (and do) make a significant difference in the ways in which we can face our fears. But no human love or human therapist can provide perfect love. So I wonder: do we sometimes excuse ourselves from the life task of dealing with our fears because we are not “perfectly” loved?

Was John (I John 4:18a RSV) suggesting that since human love is imperfect, that there are fears so intractable and paralyzing that human relationships per se are not enough—that relationship with God too is necessary in order to undertake the risk necessary to cast out these fears?

Wondering with you if risking love (human AND divine) is the first step in dealing with fear?

See you next week,


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